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February 17, 2012

How to Get Free (or Nearly Free) Development Software from Microsoft


CaptureSo you’ve got a great idea for a fantastic new application or product but you don’t have a budget for software. Sure, you can go the open source route and there are many fine tools available for developers without license fees. But if you happen to be targeting Windows or you are new to development and need that entry bar lowered right to the floor, then here’s how to get free or nearly free developer software directly from Microsoft.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is “How much do I need?” If you’re only planning to develop a relatively simple website or Windows client program then your first stop should be the Express editions of Microsoft Visual Studio. There are a number of Visual Studio Express editions available based on the type of application you’ll be writing. Here’s the list and the description from the Microsoft website (

Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone Whether you’re familiar with, or new to, Silverlight and XNA Game Studio programming, Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone provides everything you need to get started building Windows Phone apps.
Visual Web Developer 2010 Express Get everything you need to start building standards-friendly web applications with the free version of Visual Studio using the Microsoft Web Platform Installer. Visual Web Developer 2010 Express is a full-featured web development editor for working with web standards, JavaScript, and ASP.NET. This simple, streamlined installer will get your development machine ready to go. In addition, you’ll get the latest components of the Microsoft Web Platform including frameworks, web server and database.
Visual Basic 2010 Express Visual Basic 2010 Express is part of the Visual Studio 2010 Express family, a free set of tools that Windows developers at any level can use to create custom applications using basic and expert settings. Visual Basic provides a fast and easy way to create .NET Framework-based Windows applications. As with all programs that target the .NET Framework, programs written in Visual Basic benefit from security and language interoperability.
Visual C# 2010 Express Visual C# 2010 Express is part of the Visual Studio 2010 Express family, a free set of tools that Windows developers at any level can use to create custom applications using basic and expert settings. Visual C# (pronounced C sharp) is designed for building a variety of applications that run on the .NET Framework. Visual C# is simple, powerful, type-safe, and object-oriented. With its many innovations, Visual C# enables rapid application development and also retains the expressiveness and elegance of C-style languages.
Visual C++ 2010 Express Visual C++ 2010 Express is part of the Visual Studio 2010 Express family, a free set of tools that Windows developers at any level can use to create custom applications using basic and expert settings. Visual C++ is a powerful language that is designed to give you deep and detailed control when you build either native Windows (COM+) applications or .NET Framework managed Windows applications.
Visual Studio LightSwitch Visual Studio LighSwitch gives you a simpler way to create custom business apps for the desktop, web, & cloud.

Keep in mind that these are highly slimmed down versions of the Visual Studio Professional versions of the products so if you’re going to do anything complicated like writing services or want to take advantage of the enterprise development features, you’re going to have to move up to a higher level version of Visual Studio.

If you’re ready to go beyond the express editions to commercial development with multiple developers, you’re next step could be the Microsoft BizSpark program ( This program is intended to help startups get off the ground by offering Microsoft OS, Server, and development software for free to individuals or companies that are developing new software.  The requirements are that the organization must be privately held, less than 3 years old, and currently making less than $1M per year.  It includes not only Microsoft Visual Studio Ultimate with MSDN subscriptions, but also access to other great offers including a 90-day free trainingsubscription from us here at Pluralsight.

So what happens if you don’t qualify for BizSpark? Well, you still have a few other free options left but at this point things get a bit tougher.

  1. Visit your local .NET User Group. Microsoft and other vendors sponsor these groups and along with pizza they tend to give away software at each meeting. You can occasionally find a copy of Visual Studio floating around. To find your nearest .NET user group you can visit
  2. Get to know your local Microsoft MVP or Regional Director. Microsoft’s external evangelists are sometimes given copies of Visual Studio to give away at events or to reward non-MVPs who they think are great community members. For a list of MVPs and Regional Directors you can look at or
  3. Attend a Microsoft conference. Microsoft often gives away upcoming versions of their developer tools at their technical conferences such as Tech-Ed or Build. At last year’s Build conference the preview developer tools came installed on a shiny new Windows 8 tablet; so yeah that was pretty darned cool.

If you’ve exhausted these options and still are looking to get developer software from Microsoft there is one more way. It’s not free, but nearly so if you’re willing to do the work to become a Microsoft Certified Partner. There are a number of different partner types and so I won’t go into the various eligibility requirements, but if you do get yourself registered you’ll have access to what is called Microsoft Action Pack Development and Design. This is a bundle of OS, Server, and Developer software including licenses for 10 copies of Windows, 10 copies of Office, and 3 copies of Visual Studio Professional with MSDN subscription. The complete price for all of the software is about $350 which isn’t bad for what you get although they are intended for internal use only.

So if you’ve found yourself passed out on the floor after reviewing the retail pricing for Visual Studio don’t get discouraged. There are ways for the determined to get their .NET developer tools without having to sell a kidney.

Are there other ways that you can suggest to get the software LEGALLY on the cheap? How about giving a big shout-out to the user group or MVP who hooked you up with some bit-y goodness? Just hit the comment link and let the world know.

About the Author

is a Chief Architect specializing in large scale distributed system development and enterprise software processes. Paul has more than twenty years of development experience including being a former Microsoft MVP, a speaker at technical conferences such as Microsoft Tech-Ed and VSLive, and a published author. Prior to working on the Windows platform, he built software using a vast array of technologies including Java, Unix, C, and even OS/2.